Je répète, tu répètes, elle répète …

September 3, 2009

Or, as the not very funny typical dad joke has it, “je repète plus fort.”

I have been a little out of love with my job this week. Not only am I going through a period of angst about not being very good at it and did I make the right decision when deciding to retrain and has every single decision since then been the right one and how will I know for sure and so forth; but it has had me up till all hours, trying to make a given set of numbers produce results that they are showing no real inclination to produce. In short, I am tired and despondent. Poor me. 

This has, I know, made me grumpier than needs be with Piaf, at a stage in her life when her instinctive behaviour is designed to make adults grumpy. There are only so many times you can smile philosophically while sponging yoghurt off beige carpet.

On the plus side – and doubtless small children are designed that way – she is incapable of bearing a grudge. Drop a miserable, cross, sulky child at nursery in the morning; pick up a cheerful person in the evening. (I hasten to add that in both cases it’s the same child in a different mood – don’t go reporting me to social services.) 

However, I find myself doing a lot of repeating at the moment. The first sort is driven by the grump-provoking behaviour (and the late nights) and consists of repeating the same instructions, criticisms and miniature paroxysms of rage over and over again. The first time I heard Dutronc’s superb Fais pas ci, fais pas ça (seen here with cutely demonstrative amateur video) I had no idea that it would one day have real and practical use in my life. It’s not just that I’m grumpy (though I definitely am) – I’m proud of my little girl and don’t want to realise one day that I’ve failed us both by raising a cretin. “Je le dis pour ton bien” indeed.

 The other sort of repetition is more tactical and will, I hope, earn Piaf’s gratitude rather sooner. As I have said elsewhere, her languages are very mixed still (as is normal) and English still has very much the upper hand (also normal.) In monolingual environments, it is found – and I can’t be bothered to track down the research, but you know it makes sense – that the parents of children who are “good speakers” routinely “feed back” to them. The child says, “cake”; the parent does not just say “yes” or “no” but repeats and embellishes – “oh, you’d like a cake, would you? What sort of cake do you want?”

It seems to me that this must be good practice when applied bilingually too and can only help to prepare Piaf for the next stage (a few months off yet) when I will start trying to elicit French from her instead of English. When she says, “duck” (one of her favourite words and concepts currently) I do not just nod and I certainly do not say “yes” (or, if it’s a chicken, “no”) in English. I say, with all the excitement I can muster, “oui, c’est un canard, n’est-ce pas? Un joli canard jaune! Que fait-il? Il nage, hmm?”

Or, if I’m grumpy because numbers, sleeplessness and looking after an 18-month-old girl have got the better of me, I embellish by shouting, “mais ramasse ce canard, putain, pourquoi tu l’as jeté par terre? Tu veux que papa se casse la gueule?”

 To cheer us all up, I thought I’d also give you a link to the other Fais pas ci, fais pas ça – the France 2 sitcom which I worry I may also come to live for real one day …

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